Practicing Modern Family Law With Kirker Davis
Holly Davis and her partner, Chris Kirker, both know a thing or two about fighting for the rights of Austin residents. The partners in the family law firm, Kirker Davis, hold many awards, including having both been named a Top 40 under 40 National Trial Lawyer. We sat down with Holly to find out why they focus on professionals and business owners and to get the scoop on some of the biggest mistakes they see their clients making.
fA: How long have you been in business?
Holly: We've been operating this family law firm for about a year now. But I've been practicing since 2006 and before this, Chris Kirker and I worked together at a law firm called Zinda and Davis.
fA: Who are your clients?
Holly: We cater to modern families. Primarily this entails young professionals and business owners who are going through divorce. We handle family law cases that involve divorce and custody cases, but we really cater to families that own businesses together or where one spouse is maybe a doctor, dentist, or lawyer. Because often, in order to have one professional in the family it takes a lot of support from the other member of the family. And that person might be working, or they might be staying at home. We pride ourselves on the courtroom work that we do and the trial skills that we have. Chris and I both went to Baylor Law School, which is a law school specifically for trial lawyers.
fA: How have you measured success in your business?
Holly: We measure our success by client happiness, which is really hard to do in our field. We're dealing with clients in some of their worst moments, so the client satisfaction rate in our online reviews is very, very important to us. We feel like that's the best way for consumers to find us. I mean, that's how I pick vacations, that's how I pick dentists—I look at online reviews.
fA: When did you decide to become an entrepreneur and have your own firm?
Holly: I feel like I've always been an entrepreneur. I got licensed in 2006 and I worked for a year in a state job and discovered that I really wanted to be great. I always knew I wanted to be great, I was just biding my time. In 2007, I started with a law firm and quickly rose the ranks and made partner in two years there.
From 2007 to 2016, I was an entrepreneur at the firm Zinda and Davis. It was unheard of to be a 29- or 30-year-old with her own law firm. And we were growing really exponentially. I think we went from having three attorneys to becoming the largest family law firm in Central Texas and Austin. We had an office in Austin, one in Dallas, and one in San Antonio. We were growing at a rapid pace, which was breaking all the molds.
fA: How did you feel when starting your own firm?
Holly: It was terrifying and thrilling. It was petrifying to be told, "You can't do this." I have never reacted well when people told me I can't do something. There were people in leadership that said, "This is the wrong way of doing it." And I considered that. I really did think, "Maybe I don't have it right." I thought about that for a minute, and I checked in with myself and I thought, "No, think I've really got something here. I think this is a good idea."
The good news was that Chris Kirker felt the same way. We had, from the very beginning, complete alignment on what we thought was important. Then we were able to share ideas and catapult one idea to the next level.
We just took it one day at a time. And that was the thrilling part, to be able to outpace my vision. This was really good confirmation that I was right. At least for myself and what I was trying to do.
fA: Would you recommend people visit with a family law firm before they enter relationships, especially if they have a business?
Holly: Absolutely. I don't think information hurts at all. In fact, I think it makes a lot of sense for people contemplating marriage, which is a very serious transaction, and a lot of times involves finances. For a young entrepreneur who's in love, I think it just makes a lot of sense.
If your arm is not feeling good, you go to a doctor. If you want to know the best way to handle taxes, you see a CPA. And if you're combining your finances, you should talk to a divorce attorney. I think there's a stigma of talking to a divorce attorney because it implies that you're going to get in a fight with somebody.
You might even want to consult divorce attorneys to prevent divorce. I have hourly consults with people who may never ever, ever get divorced, they just want to talk about their rights. They want to talk about how to best manage their assets while they're married. I think it makes a lot of sense to consult with somebody if you're going to mix your assets anyway.
The act of seeing an attorney does not mean you're going to hurt your spouse or that you don't love them. It just means that you're getting information that you need. It’s like any other business decision that you make.
fA: What would you tell a reader who was contemplating a bold move, like you did by starting your own firm?
Holly: First I’d suggest they find the thing that they absolutely love. What is the thing you obsess about? What are you thinking about constantly? I cannot imagine doing anything else. My heart kind of breaks when I think about having to do something else. That is a really important thing to pay attention to.
Second, just do it. Take it from an idea and make it in bite-sized chunks. If you can accomplish a bite-sized chunk each day towards that goal, then you will surprise yourself how far you get down the road.
Third, find somebody else who feels the exact same way that you do, and then go into business with them. If you find another person that you can lean into, and lean on, and push against, and work with, it's incredible.
fA: What is it about the law that you're so passionate about?
Holly: The law takes something that's not right, that isn't fair, that doesn't support certain portions of the population or society, and it gives us a level playing field. It's as level as we can get.
fA: Out of all of Texas, what made you choose Austin?
Holly: The people here in Austin are very intelligent, interesting, eclectic, diverse, kooky, and entertaining. Part of what I love about what I do is that it's incredibly interesting. People are interesting. My 9:30 a.m. phone call is probably much more interesting than other phone calls that are occurring across the country, and I'm thankful for it. I'm a little bit of a thrill junkie in that respect. Austin's got a ton of interesting stories.
fA: As an entrepreneur hiring employees, do you have any tips?
Holly: Understanding your identity as a firm is very important. When hiring, it’s important that you be role-centered instead of being individual-centered. I always ask myself, "What's the role and is this person meeting the role? Exceeding the role? Falling short of the role?" We can always modify the role, too. But, identifying what the needs of the firm are, putting that into well-thought-out positions and then considering the trajectory of each particular employee are all really important steps.
fA: What would our readers be surprised to learn about family law?
Holly: Most people think their household furniture is worth a lot more than it is. They over-value their belongings. But unless you've got some Gustav Stickley furniture, or you've some Georgia O'Keeffe's, you don't want to pay the attorneys $350 an hour to argue about your used furniture.
And in mediation, it always comes down to table lamps. I handle multi-million dollar divorces. I have handled billion dollar divorces. And guess what we were talking about at the end of the day? Your stuff. The wagon-wheel coffee table that no one wants. The sporting equipment that you didn't even remember you had. It's stuff. Some of it's important--the World War II collectible pistol that your grandfather gave you, yes. Your grandmother's brooch? Absolutely.
Your office furniture? Is not worth it.
Finally, I will also tell you that people care very deeply for their pets. I've had very, very wealthy clients who have had no problem dividing up the business, but talking about their pets is like talking to some people about their children. People get very, very possessive about their pets.
fA: Do lawyers really get along?
Holly: Yes. It's possible to be friendly and then to be very assertive. I think that's what my firm does really well. I think we were once described as, “Aggressive yet patient.” I don't think you can be those things if you're not listening very well.
fA: Any free legal advice you can offer up?
Holly: Everyone, read your text messages. Text as if you've got to read it aloud in court. Also, I want everybody to know that you don't have to tell somebody when you're recording a conversation with them. People are always asking, "Do I have to admit I’m recording the conversation if she asks me?" No, you don't have to do that. That's from Beverly Hills Cop.
fA: Are there any causes that you are passionate about?
There are a lot of excellent legal clinics involving veterans and their rights. Rio Grande Legal Aid is an excellent organization that I assist because they're giving free legal advice to people who need it, who can't afford the hourly rates of other attorneys.
There are people getting divorced who need our help but who don't have businesses and aren't doctors or lawyers, so I always like to give my time. I take a couple cases each year that I don't charge for. Just because they can't pay for an attorney at a certain price point doesn't mean they don't need legal help.
I also think shelters for women, children, and other victims of abuse are important. I personally give to the Children's Center of Austin because often, in situations involving family violence, the children are just innocent bystanders who are in the middle of some dangerous situations.
To learn more about the services that this firm specializes, visit www.kirkerdavis.com.